Tag Archives: student centered

Effective learning – what are the ingredients?

19 Jul

Creating a truly learner centered educational environment requires quite a few thoughts even before the learning-teaching interaction begins. You as teacher must make a choice of the frame of reference to be used. Sometimes this choice is an unintentional one – especially if you have not reflected upon your own learning philosophy.

To promote effective learning you should think about the learning environment (both emotional and physical) to ensure there are no obstacles for learning. Students prior knowledge plays a major part in their learning, and if you start teaching where the curriculum tells you to start, you may be passing by their actual horizon of understanding.

Some students arrive to the class ready to learn – others do not. Finding gentle ways to increase the readiness, and decreasing the fears, anxieties and misconceptions of students ensures a less bumpy ride towards the mutual goal: effective learning. Also, an aptitude for learning is highly individual among students in any given group. You as their teacher can either help students to become more interested in what they are learning – or simply communicate about passing the test as a measurement of education and learning itself not being important. Imagine how huge difference there is in between those two approaches! Yet we sometimes non-verbally communicate about passing/performing instead of learning.

Students’ own goals and their motivation to learn are also related to the learning aptitude. Certain (widely accepted) classroom practices actually cater for extrinsic motivation (i.e. performing tasks for a reward), which does not help your students to become lifelong learners. The last piece in this picture of effective learning is the quality of teaching – actually just one sixth of all the important ingredients of  effective learning, but too often highlighted as the only measurement of education excellence.

This all, among other topics, are discussed in my new book: Choosing How to Teach & Teaching How to Choose: Using the 3Cs to Improve Learning. It is already available on Amazon  and Barnes & Noble. Of course they are the same things I will be sharing in the AERO conference  in Portland, OR, August 1-5, 2012, where Sir Ken Robinson is one of the keynote speakers. I am quite excited!! 🙂

3Cs for better teaching and learning

8 Jul

The cognitive approach combined with the constructive and cooperative practices enable effective teaching and meaningful learning.

C1 –Cognitive approach makes teaching and learning easy and effective. Viewing learning as a student-centered and dynamic process where learners are active participants, it strives to understand the reasons behind behavioural patterns. The individual way we approach learning and whether we believe in our abilities are huge processes that are running all the time behind student performance. This is why I believe it is important to build strong learners.

C2 – Constructive practice emphasizes the students’ need to construct their own understanding. Delivered or transmitted knowledge does not have the same emotional and intellectual value. New learning depends on prior understanding and is interpreted in the context of current understanding, not first as isolated information that is later related to existing knowledge.

C3 – Cooperative learning engages not only the whole student in her/his learning, but also the whole class (or school, or even a district!) into the learning process. Teaching and learning become meaningful for both teacher and students, because there is no need for the power struggle in the classroom: why would a student rebel against the rules s/he has been creating? Wide range of different teaching and learning strategies can be utilized, and there is much more time to teach and learn!

Deep learning (or “syväoppiminen”, as I learned the term while studying for my M. Ed. in the University of Jyväskylä, Finland) helps brain to reconstruct the long-term memory, and stores the learned content quite permanently. Its counterpart, shallow learning, only stores learned items to our short-term memory and they get discarded after a while whey they are not needed anymore. Think of cramming for a remember-every-small-detail – type exam. The difference between these two types of learning is huge – one builds for life, other is for temporary use. And in educational settings we are always dealing with both types of learning.

While reading about the “summer learning loss”, I cannot but think that those forgotten things were never deep learned. And because re-re-redoing things is extremely frustrating for both teachers and students, I wish more teachers intentionally chose how they teach and aimed for deep learning. 3Cs are one way of focusing on deep learning. They are easy to use and applicable in all levels of education – they are equally important in early childhood education as they are for people pursuing their masters or doctorates. Very few of us (humans) enjoy experiencing someone to use unnecessary power or control over us.

How do you provide your students with meaningful learning experiences?

What happens to learning when school year ends?

10 Jun

In an ideal situation?  Nothing – learning goes on because students are curious about their physical and social environment and want to keep on interacting with it.  Of course we don’t call it formally “learning” when they are exploring the shores, forests, parks, malls or streets of their hometown or holiday destination.  We call it free time or vacation. Yet, if your students have learned how appropriate and important the question Why? is, they will make the most of their free time as well and keep on learning while wondering and reflecting upon the things they notice. (Please, read more about Why? in this excellent post:  http://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/curiosity-questions-and-learning/)

In a less than ideal situation students refuse to wonder or ask questions about anything.  These students are so fed up with school that they try to avoid all learning activities at any cost when they get out of school. Why does education do that?! How does education do that? John Holt (American author and educator  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Holt_(educator)) had fairly strong ideas about how this disconnect happens:

“We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”  — John Holt

Killing the intrinsic curiosity children are born with is the worst side effect of an educational system.  This is no news, scientists and educators have known that for decades. Learning starts from wondering.  Science is all about wondering, and asking questions why and how.  As long as you know how to wonder, you are also learning as you go.

“Every kid starts out as a natural-born scientist, and then we beat it out of them. A few trickle through the system with their wonder and enthusiasm for science intact.”  — Carl Sagan

We adults as parents and teachers can prevent the worst from happening by communicating the expectations of education with our students, and also verbalizing how learning does not only happen in school. Every child knows that games have rules, and that the rules must be obeyed so that everybody can play. So, instead of automatically trying to instill into students the idea of school being for fun, we probably should have a very honest talk with kids, and explain how school may not be fun – but how learning certainly is – and help them to understand the difference between learning and  going to school. Learning is what you do for yourself. Graduating is what you do for the society/culture as a part of the game of life.

Detaching learning from going to school and restoring the intrinsic curiosity by encouraging the question Why? is the first step on building autonomy as a learner. This also helps children to take a personal approach to their learning, and also assume more responsibility over it.

The question for you as a parent or teacher is: Do you want your student to be tricked into learning involuntarily (or because of the extrinsic rewards), or do you want them to choose  learning as their own choice?

                                                                                     

Receptive or Expressive?

23 Apr

Learning a new language is always both fascinating and frustrating at the same time. Fascinating because a whole new world opens up, and new connections are made. Frustrating because even though I am soon starting to understand some sentences in the new language, I am still far away from speaking fluency, and I know from experience that it will take a looong time before I get there.

It occurred to me that learning always seems to follow the same pattern, no matter what we are learning, language or something else. First you gain some basic ideas about the topic (or language), and try to wrap your mind around it. Then you try to produce something  from you newly learned knowledge. In language learning we call these receptive and expressive language skills. And language teachers have long time known how important it is to get students started with speaking on the target language from the day one, to keep the expressive threshold low for them.

Already in elementary school we are introducing several new “languages” to students: math has a large vocabulary, so does science…not to talk about linguistics, and learning all the names of different features in language. If these “new vocabulary requirements” are not discussed openly with students, they will remain as parts of the hidden expectations. Encouraging students to learn these new vocabularies and use them in everyday speech is a single teaching strategy that will carry for years and years in the future.

Language teachers also know how important students’ talking in the class is,  when we want to help them get fluent.  It is equally important for students to externalize their thoughts and individual understanding about other school subjects to gain the necessary depth of learning. This is easily done by providing every student an opportunity to verbalize their understanding – and because we have limited time in the classroom, it must be done in short pair or group discussions. Every day. In every subject.

Why do we still seem to think teachers’ talking being more important than students’ talking? When the teacher is talking  students are building  only their receptive skills.  Of course, this is the same truth as in learning being more important than teaching.

Only when your expressive skills are adequate  (i.e. you know what you are talking about) you can master the subject.

What is your expectation for your students? Do you wish them to become “fluent” enough with your subject, or are you happy if they have limited receptive understanding about it?

Explaining the Finnish Miracle – Part Two

15 Mar

Explaining the Finnish Miracle – Part Two

Excellent multidimensional explanation about Finnish system! Please read!

It also contains the broader view of curriculum being the practical and helpful guiding tool for intentional teaching and learning – yet providing flexibility for individual schools and teachers to make learning happen in an individualized way. It is the true work plan. Not something publishers are selling, but a tool created for your school and your students.

Mentioning the corridors etc. as important places for learning made me miss the days I was teaching elementary in Finland, and often sent students to study in small groups to different places (like corridors) within the school building … sometimes we used stairs or dressing rooms as small group spaces. Students completed their assignments and returned to classroom to ask for more…. 🙂  But nobody was worried about them going missing, as they were highly accountable for their own learning.

How to build student centered class environment?

25 Feb

Student centered teaching is a way of making teaching and learning better in the classroom. As this is a highly qualitative measure, it is sometimes hard to summarize the necessary changes or easily communicate the differences between student-centered and traditional teacher-led instruction.

What makes definition even harder, is the fact that student centered education is not really a method. It is a philosophy, based on the fact that each human being learns individually. What is taught in a classroom is not necessarily learned, because each student has a different perception of what was taught – and that is exactly how it should be, if we want to foster (critical) thinking skills. When we are asked to follow someone else’s thinking we will not create the same competence as while thinking it through on our own.

There are certain indicators for student centered teaching and learning. The three  main characteristics to define whether a learning environment is student centered or not, are the use of cognitive, constructive and cooperative tools in teaching and learning. One very simple “measurement” is to pay attention to the amount of open-ended questions (as opposed to questions that have just single one correct answer). The other measure is the amount of individualization used in the classroom, and the learning environment supporting learner’s autonomy in majority of tasks and assignments.

Open-ended questions cater for the cognitive growth of your students.  These questions also help your students grow as learners and understand the way their individual learning happens when they hear different correct answers to the same question.  Discussing about the different points of view leading to these answers helps students understand the connections between concepts, and thus caters for deep learning.  When you as teacher know how learning happens, you can easily guide students beyond rote memorization. The question to ask yourself while planning the lesson is: what will my students really learn about this?

Individualization sometimes seems like a bad word, or being something that only adds to the load for the teacher. But it does not have to be  that way. Constructive teaching is student centered and acknowledges the importance of building the content to be learned so that it meets the students’ increasing understanding about the subject matter. Of course,  introducing more complicated concepts after the basics have been learned is just plain common sense. But, the constructive way I have taught with also includes the idea of providing choices for students, so that the more advanced students can learn further on their own speed, while those students who may need extra time can review the content one more time, if necessary. This is not hard to do. And it still is basic common sense: keep the learning meaningful for all of your students. I used to assign different homework for students, too.

Learner’s autonomy requires cooperation in the class.  Only cooperative learning is student centered, because teacher-led instruction is based on the teacher telling students what to do. Cooperation must happen between students to provide deeper understanding about the subject. Sometimes the students’ choice of words makes it easier for another student to understand, because they share the approximately same language level, which is not the case between the teacher and student. Cooperation  in the teacher-student relationship takes away the unnecessary power struggle between teachers and students: why have a battle when we are aiming to a mutual goal? Providing autonomy in class empowers students to learn more on their own,  and makes them become more interested in things they learn at school. This of course decreases the need for behaviour management in your class, when everyone is engaged in learning. Seems like a win-win situation to me!